lunes, 21 de mayo de 2007

Helix — a 1D skyscraper with a single corridor

I work in an office building where half the team is on floor 31 and the other half on floor 32. Although we work less than 4 meters apart(vertically), we tend to organise into two sub-teams. We even know our colleagues from the other teams on the same floor better than our own teammates on the other floor: the 4-meter vertical separation between storeys is psychologically much larger than the horizontal distance (often more than 50 meters) on the same level. This issue is well-known to those who have to organise how teams are located in the building, and a project leader has to fight dearly to have the whole project team hosted on the same level.

I was discussing this basic fact over a cup of coffee with my upstairs colleagues when the idea smote me hard upside the head: who said the different storeys could not be connected horizontally ? A shiny Archimedes’ screw flashed for a split second before my eye: there were the blueprints of a revolutionary architecture concept. We can build a tall office building where everyone is on the same floor, where you can go from any office to any other office without using stairs or elevators.

A revolutionary topology

The principle is a cylindrical building with a helical shape for the floor. The slope of the floor is 1.5% (it rises by 1.5 cm every meter), thus hardly noticeable. The height of each ’storey’ is 3 meters, so that when you walk 200 meters along the corridor, you have walked a full circle, but you end up one ’storey’ above or below your starting point. This results in a diameter of approximately 60 meters, therefore quite common for large skyscrapers. The corridor is on the outside, so that everybody has access to the fabulous views over the city. Offices are all on the inside. As the tower is hollow in the middle, and the inner diameter of the patio is still approximately 40 meters, this makes for a very nice light shaft with peaceful lighting conditions.

The floor of each office is made horizontal, so that your chair does not roll down and hit the separation. But if you take your chair in the corridor, be careful not to let go of it. All things rolling naturally find their way to the lost+found in the lobby.

The fundamental consequence of this shape is that everyone works along the very same corridor. No more split teams. Yoou have a project with 10 people? -Nobody is going to shove your team off to a god-forsaken corner just to have a storey to themselves. You have a team of 200 people ? -You can take 1,100 degrees of offices and have your whole team working in a connect stretch of the corridor.

Instead of taking an elevator, everybody can walk the distance to whomever they want to visit in the building: ‘what’s your office angular coordinate again ? -14,845 degrees -OK, I’ll be here in a sec’. As the slope is really shallow, it make for a nice stroll, where you get to meet people and walk with them instead of stupidly watching an elevator dial while pretending to brush some kind of dust speck off your tie.

Simple Helix

There are many other advantages of this topology:

  • it is 100% wheelchair friendly, even in the case of an emergency evacuation
  • you avoid the cost of stairwells (in terms of building cost, but first and foremost in terms of real estate)
  • you can get rid of elevators (they are costly, prone to failures, and they are no use in case of emergencies)
  • also in emergencies, everyone is sure to get the word, as all would march down the corridor.

Another enormous advantage of this strictly one-dimensional topology is that you can draw a map of the whole building along a single straight line. On the left is the lobby at coordinate 0 degrees, and on the right-end, the penthouse at coordinate 36,000 degrees (or more if the building is taller than 100 turns).

A small issue

Those who are good with numbers will immediately notice that the distance to walk from the ground office to the top office at 36,000 degrees (therefore an equivalent of 100 storeys) is 20 kilometers (twelve miles). How will the people working at the end of this long corridor will ever get to their office in the morning ? There are two moving walkways in the middle of the corridor: one up, a railing, one down. The lanes travel at about 10 km/h. You will say that it is fine for a couple of storeys, but it still takes more than one hour to reach the top of the building, even if you walk fast on the walkway.

We have thought of adding extra walkay lanes (and you’d just have to hop from a slower to a faster lane). But as the safe speed difference between lanes is 10 km/h, you’d need twelve lanes to allow people working in the 30,000 degrees offices to get to work in less than ten minutes (the requirement). You could imagine an alternative to moving walkways, for instance a small cable car stopping every ten storeys. But whatever the transportation system, if it is fast and it follows the winding corridor, motion sickness gets you quite fast.

Therefore, for long distances, we have to allow some kind of space-warp, in the form of express elevators, in transparent shafts inside the hollow patio of the tower. Note that only express elevators are needed, stopping only every 1,800 degrees (or equivalently every five turns or every kilometer). All smaller distances can be walked with the belt.

Variant 1: disconnected 2×1D topology

As you can see from the shape of a DNA molecule or the staircases at the castle of Chambord or in the Vatican Museum, you can intertwine two or more helices without any crossing one another. With such a structure, we can have two identical helical corridors that cannot communicate.

Double helix

This could allow building a skyscraper to accommodate two fierce competitors, with no connection whatsoever. Each emloyee would work within ten feet (vertically) from their competition counterpart, but they could never get to their office by following the corridor. They’d have to walk down to the lobby, exit the building, go round to the other entrance, and show a pass (which they would not have). This would guarantee secrecy, while making it easier for customers and suppliers: they would not have to travel the world to negociate contracts, having all the competition in the same building.

Variant 2: closed 1D topology

We can take advantage of the double-helix shape to have a single corridor in which both ends are connected. By having two intertwined helices and connecting their top- and bottom-ends, you can have a closed 1-D topology, just like a circle or an indicar ring. Nobody will work in an office near an ‘end’ of the building. The map of the building can be drawn as a circle, with elevators drawn as spokes, and if you turn the map, everyone’s office will be in the ‘middle’.

If all offices are identical, you can even declare some kind or roll-rule, so that everyday, you work in the office on the right of the one you worked the day before, so that everybody in turn gets to be in a bottom or a top office: with a 20-km-long corridor and 3-meter wide offices, it takes 31 years to visit all offices in the building: the reward for faithful employees.

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